Sunday, October 12, 2008

Laid Off? Now What?

The Working Life: What To Do If You’ve Been laid Off

It happens to thousands of people every day. You get laid off from your job. For many, it’s a terrifying situation, but with a little work, not only can you handle it, you can find a way to move forward.

First of all, it’s important to remember that getting laid off is not the same thing as getting fired. When you get fired, it basically means that didn’t perform the job you were hired to do to the satisfaction of your employer. Getting fired is usually due to performance issues, breaking company regulations and policies or the inability to work effectively within the organization.

Getting laid off, on the other hand, usually means that your employer had to reduce its workforce. This is generally due to economic hardship or restructuring, and you or your position were part of the trimming of the proverbial fat.

While the reasons and intentions behind a firing or a lay off are different, the impact is often the same. You are out in the cold with no job and it feels terrible.

Prepare Yourself
In today’s climate, it is best, as the Boy Scouts know, to be prepared. Rarely does a lay off or a firing come out of the blue. The minute you start hearing rumors or seeing the signs you should start to prepare yourself for the worst-case scenario. Here’s what to do to prepare yourself:
  1. Review your salary and benefits package so you have accurate information of what you can negotiate with HR. The more prepared you are the better off you will be to negotiate an optimal severance package.
  2. Make a list of things to discuss with HR, including benefits severance, help with future employment, training, etc.
  3. Update your resume. This is critical and should be done while still employed. It is much easier to create a positive resume when you are coming from a place of success rather than a place of despair. Do it while you still have a job.
  4. Reconsider any upcoming large expenditures, like trips or other purchases. Now is not the time to buy a new car or go to Paris.
  5. Make sure you have 3 to 6 months of liquid living expenses.
  6. Update your Rolodex or PDA with contacts you may need and start to network immediately. Copy your e-mail address book, phone numbers etc. You may not be able to later.
  7. Gather or copy any awards, accommodations, citations, letters of recommendation, etc. from your workplace that you will need.
The general idea is to reduce as many hurdles as possible to transitioning out of your current job and into another one. You may not have a lot of time or a lot of notice to clear out, so you need to be ready. And with a resume, it is a lot easier to make a minor revision than a major overhaul. So keep your resume updated just to be on the safe side.

The HR meeting

While all the tips above are critical steps, you need to be especially prepared for your meeting with HR. It may come very quickly, with little or no notice. One day you are gainfully employed and the next you are out of a job and sitting in front of your company’s HR person who is handing you a check and telling you your computer access has been cut off. So you need to have your wits about you.

Even though you are being laid off, you can still negotiate. And depending on your position, you may have a lot of things to negotiate. Think of this as a business transaction. There are lots of things to discuss, and this is where being prepared can really help. You will or may need to discuss:
  • A severance package
  • Vacation time, comp time and sick time buy out
  • 401 Ks, stock options and other financial compensation tools
  • Your expense accounts
  • Health insurance – how long will the company pay? What is your share?
  • Other benefits like company cars, club memberships, education and other perqs
  • Transition services like training, employment counseling, relocation, etc.
  • Reference policy and reference letters
  • Copies of awards, commendations, etc.
Before you are shown the door, you need to have your head about you to be able to discuss these and possibly other things with your former employer. And the more prepared you are the better your outcome.

Leaving nicely
Though you may be sorely tempted, now is not the time to tell management what you “really” think about them. I’m not saying you need to empathize with the company that is letting you go, but it is important to remember that it probably was a tough decision for your boss or the organization. No one relishes cutbacks.

You want to leave on the best possible terms for two reasons. First, your next employer may call them for a reference. Second, many companies rehire laid off employees when their economic situation improves. Don’t burn any bridges. Leave nicely.

Wallow, Then Get Going

OK, so you’ve lost the job and now you are at a loss. This is serious. Getting laid off is a major life change that delivers a psychological blow. It rapidly forces people into an unexpected and many times undesirable change, one that is surrounded by a sense of fear, anger, and ambiguity. It’s a hard thing to handle, and it is imperative that you take
some time to adjust to this jarring turn of events. My advice is to take a few days to a week to wallow, feel sorry for yourself and decompress. This is the time for the sweat pants, Oreos and daytime TV.

Then, after a few days, that’s it. No more wallowing. Get up, dust yourself off, get dressed and accept that your new job is to find a job.

The first thing to do is to find out if and when you are eligible to file for unemployment. Check with your local unemployment agency. Programs vary from state to sate, but they generally run between 14 and 21 weeks. There is also a 13-week federal extension program that is worth exploring.

What you don’t want to do is dip into your 401ks or other retirement accounts. Every working person should have 3 to 6 months of living expenses salted away for a rainy day. This may be it. In your meeting with HR, you should have determined your severance package and benefits, like health insurance, so you should have a good idea of what your income and expenses should be in the near term. Sit down and budget your expenses. Now is a good time to cut back where you can.

Next, start networking. Get out there and let people know that you are on the market. Get that resume circulating and start lighting up the phones. Call friends and colleagues. Troll for information. Work your network. Keep in touch with your former HR person and stay updated.
For many people, however, being laid off is a great time to re-evaluate your professional goals and interests. For some, this is the opportunity to make that career change they have longed for. You can use your lay off to make changes in your career development. If you can afford to, take a class, learn a new skill, explore other fields. Take a temp job or internship in that field. That’s a great way to start exploring a new field, start a new network, gain new skills and meet potential employers.

If you don’t want to change careers or fields, temp work is still a great way to get your foot in the door of another company. You can earn money while networking, staying professionally sharp and meeting potential employers.

Many others, however, have been in the same field for 20 or more years. For them, getting laid off is truly terrifying. They may not have the new skill sets to find new jobs. For this group, you will need to find a recent college grad, maybe your son/daughter/niece/nephew, to show you some tips. Don’t let the new fangled Internet distract you from the core competencies of job searching, which are always a stand out resume, superb interviewing skills and a strong network that can alert you to opportunities.

With planning, preparation and perseverance, you can get through being laid off and find another or a new career.

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